Indian Army on Monday lodged a strong protest with Pakistan Army over the killing of two of its jawans, one of whom was beheaded, and continued ceasefire violations along the LoC in Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir.
India, Pakistan trade heavy gunfire near LoC
"The flag meeting between brigade commanders of India and Pakistan started around 1 PM and ended at 1.32 PM at Chakan-Da-Bagh Crossing-Point in Poonch sector", a senior Army officer said.
Army sources said a strong protest was lodged by the Indian side over the killings and continued ceasefire violations by Pakistan.
The Indian team was led by 10th Brigade (Krishnaghati Brigade) Commander Brig T S Sandhu in the meeting with the Pakistan brigade commander at Chakan da Bagh Crossing Point along the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch district.
The officer said further details were awaited as the team was returning from the forward area.
Terming as "unpardonable" the beheading of a soldier by Pakistan on the Line of Control, Army chief Gen Bikram Singh on Monday warned that India's military will retaliate aggressively in case of any further provocation.
Talking tough, he said the killing of two Indian soldiers on the LoC in Mendhar area of Jammu and Kashmir on January 6 was a pre-planned and pre-meditated action by Pakistani troops and India reserves the right to retaliate at "time and place of its choice".
Addressing a press conference here on the eve of Army Day, Gen Singh said India's response to Pakistani firing at its posts in LoC in J and K is measured and perfect.
He said the ceasefire, in place since November 2003, has been holding except for "some aberrations" for which he squarely blamed Pakistan.
"Beheading (of Lance Naik Hemraj) is unacceptable and unpardonable," the Army Chief said about the incident in which Pakistan soldiers crossed into the Indian territory to attack Indian army patrol party.
"It (the attack) was stage-managed and pre-planned (by Pakistan). They (Pakistan) have planted lies to justify what they have done," he said.
He said the attack was carried out by Pakistan army personnel but did not rule out the possibility of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists being associated with it.
Gen Singh said while the issue is being taken up with Pakistan at government and military levels, directions have been given to Army commanders to respond immediately if provoked.
"India reserves its right to retaliate at the time and place of its choice. We won't remain passive when attacked," he said, adding he expected "commanders to be aggressive and offensive."
Hitting out that the Pakistan army, Gen Singh said beheading is against all rules of engagement.
At the same time, he said there were some "tactical errors" on part of the local unit which will be looked into later as an inquiry at the moment will affect the morale of the forces.
"Our teams should be balanced to take on the onslaught of the enemy," the Army Chief said.
Putting the onus of maintaining the ceasefire on Pakistan, the Army Chief said India will uphold it as long as the "adversary" does.
He applauded the Indian Army Commanders at the LoC, saying they did a "great job".
Gen Singh discounted the possibility of the skirmish leading to a full-fledged war and was dismissive of Pakistan's nuclear blackmail, saying it had no relation to the local conflict.
"Indicators does not show upping the ante," he said.
On any response to the Pakistani action, he said it has to be the decision of the government.
Noting that the morale of the force along the LoC was "high", Singh said he would go there at an "opportune time".
The Army Chief said he shared the grief of slain soldier Hemraj Singh's widow. "I am sorry (for all her pains and sorrows). She is a part of the army family... she will be provided with all the entitlements," he said.
Regretting the beheading incident, he said the Indian Army would have never indulged in such type of acts.
"We give respect to enemys' bodies. This is our value and you have seen this during Kargil war," he said.
On Sunday evening, Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire yet again firing at Indian posts in the Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir even as the two sides prepared for a flag meeting of top commanders on Monday to defuse tension along the Line of Control (LoC).
The fresh firing by Pakistan troops on Indian posts in Nangitikri forward area along LoC in Poonch district around 4:30 pm on Sunday, came after heavy overnight firing in Krishnagati also in Poonch, an Army officer said.
The attack took place hours after Pakistan agreed for a Brigade Commander-level flag meeting, sought by India, along the LoC in Poonch to discuss the recent intrusion and brutal killing of jawans besides continued ceasefire violations by its soldiers that have flared up tension.
Pakistani posts opposite Nangitikri targeted the posts and the Indian troops retaliated, he said.
The exchange continued for a brief period before coming to a halt, he said, adding there was no loss of life or injury to anyone on the Indian side.
There was firing on five Indian posts -- Kranti, Kripan, Gordha, Chajjaman and Dogra from Pakistan posts- Daku, Chooha, Roza and Battal. Mortars were fired intermittently from Pakistan side.
The ceasefire violation was the fourth by Pakistan troops along Poonch sector after the killing of two jawans.
On the overnight firing, Palta said movement of six to seven persons was detected close to LoC opposite Krishnagati sub-sector in Poonch sector around 9.45 pm on Saturday.
After 30 minutes, the group of suspected infiltrators disappeared, Palta said.
It is believed that either a group of militants or Border Action Team (BAT) could have been undertaking movement close to LoC opposite Krishnagati sub-sector in Poonch.
Pakistani troops had also violated the ceasefire by firing mortars shells and from small arms on Indian posts along LoC in Krishnagati sector of Poonch district from 5 PM to 9.30 PM on Thursday.
Indian troops had retaliated resulting in the exchange of fire. There was no casuality or injury to any one in the Pak firing.
"The border with Pakistan is tense but the situation is under control along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. The Army is maintaining utmost vigilance along the border with Pakistan," the spokesman said.
The Indian Army had sent a hotline message to the Pakistan Army on January 11 and asked for a flag meeting to discuss the issues of brutal killing of two jawans by Pakistani troops, reportedly belonging to 29 Baloch Regiment, and increasing incidents of firing and ceasefire violations in the Poonch sector.
Pakistan's high commissioner Salman Bashir has already been summoned in Delhi by foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai who lodged a strong protest over the "highly provocative" Pakistani Army action in which the two soldiers were killed and their bodies subjected to "barbaric and inhuman mutilation".
Confidence Building Measures (CMBs) of cross-LoC trade and travel are also expected to come up for discussion during the flag meeting.
Pakistan has suspended cross-LoC trade and travel at Chakan-Da-Bagh crossing point in Poonch sector since Thursday and Friday respectively.
Monday's Brigade Commander-level flag meeting is the second one in the last six months between the two sides.
The last one was held at Chakan-Da-Bagh LoC point on June 23 following the killing of two Indian soldiers and injuries to four other jawans in ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops. Cross-LoC trade and travel via Chakan-Da-Bagh was also suspended.
Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed 71 incidents of cross-border firing and ceasefire violations along the Indo-Pak border in which seven persons, including four security personnel were killed and 15 others were injured last year.
There were 51 cases of cross-border firing and ceasefire violations in 2011 as compared to 44 cases registered in 2010 and 28 in 2009.
(With inputs from HT, PTI)